Use renewable energy for purchased electricity (dramatic CO2 emissions reduction), replace copper with fiber (85% improved efficiency), migrate to 5G (up to 90% more efficient than 4G), and retire 3G and legacy systems (15% energy reduction) are just four of the 30 action items identified in a new report by global technology intelligence firm ABI Research. The report, 30 Action Items for Sustainability: Telco Operators, provides an actionable plan for reaching net-zero carbon emissions with examples and best practices collected from across the telecom industry.
For years, the telecommunications sector has demonstrated aggressive leadership for climate action. In February 2019, the Global System for Mobile Communications Association (GSMA) Board set an industry-wide goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050 at the latest. By April 2021, the GSMA reported that mobile operators covering 50% of global connections and 65% of industry revenue had committed to science-based targets. “This report seeks to help telecommunications companies go from sustainability pledges and targets to next-level execution by identifying the technologies, platforms, and programs that will take them from good intentions to robust actions,” explains says Kim Johnson, Sustainable Technologies Principal Analyst at ABI Research.
ABI Research considers six categories as critical to telco operator sustainability—renewable energy, network upgrades, energy efficiency, waste disposal and circular economy, green buildings and vehicles, and reporting & governance. Within these categories, 30 individual action items have been identified as specific steps that telco operators can take to reduce their company’s impact on the environment.
ABI Research has previously published an unbiased Sustainability Index, ranking ten leading telco operators for sustainability efforts at the enterprise level. This report expands on that research and goes deeper into the technologies and applications that are reducing carbon emissions and waste. Some areas of specific exploration are: 5G and sustainability, cell-site installations for renewable energy, specific network equipment recommendations for energy efficiency, AI-enabled solutions for 5G network optimization, AI-enabled Power Savings Features (PSFs), and digital twins use cases for network asset planning, field operations, and customer mapping.
“With ABI Research’s new sustainability research service, we are doing more than just identifying sustainable technologies. With each Action Item in this report, we want to explain the technology or application, assess its ability to reduce carbon emissions, water, or waste, and then analyze the costs and benefits expected from investments in the action or program. Our research and consultative services are further enhanced by aggregating industry-wide examples and best practices to fully illustrate use cases and sustainability outcomes for each action,” Johnson says.
Though the 30 Action Items mostly address how to reduce a telco operator’s own emissions, primary research revealed that sustainability leaders in the industry were not only interested in reducing their own emissions and waste, but they were also dedicated to working with suppliers, partners, and customers, upstream and downstream from their own operations, to reduce overall emissions in the industry. The European telcos have been especially ambitious in setting aside differences to form alliances and coalitions that reduce emissions across common suppliers. For example, in May 2021, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telefónica, Telia Company, and Vodafone launched an Eco-Rating system for encouraging a wider rating of mobile phones, while helping to drive demand for more sustainable products. Eco-Rating currently evaluates more than 200 models of mobile phones, which is twice the number of devices rated at the launch. Eco-Rating systems are also challenging a “take, make, and waste” philosophy of trading smartphones every two years, by encouraging more sustainable materials, product durability, repairability, and recyclability.
Finally, global targets for climate change will only be met when companies engage in actionable plans to reduce carbon emissions. “There is no silver bullet for a telco operator becoming climate neutral or reaching net-zero emissions across its value chain. A series of action items, however, can provide a framework for the critical steps, such as switching to renewable energy for purchased electricity, investing in energy efficient network equipment, using AI-enabled solutions for energy savings, and facilitating comprehensive sustainability programming that encourages the responsible management of resources at the company level and across the industry,” Johnson concludes.